The Rural We: Akiko Busch
Author photo by Carolyn Brooks.
Dutchess County-based writer Akiko Busch is the author of several essay collections, including “The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science” and “Nine Ways to Cross a River,” in which she writes about swimming across a different American waterway each year. Busch was a contributing editor at Metropolis magazine for 20 years, and her work has appeared in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She teaches literature and writing at both the School of Visual Arts in New York City and at Bennington College, her alma mater. She’ll launch her newest book, “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency,” at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY on Friday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. You’ll also be able to meet her at this year’s Millbrook Literary Festival on May 18.
I grew up in Millbrook, and after college I lived in San Francisco and New York City, but moved back to Dutchess County when I was in my mid 30s. My husband and I were both self-employed and we would come up for weekends when my parents were still alive. The weekends got longer and longer. We thought, well, maybe it’s time to move up here. There’s something about the geography of the Hudson Valley that speaks to me, so I really feel home here.
My first book was about the geography of home. Years ago, I was writing about design, rooms, objects, places. I felt like it was about a sense of fit — how a spoon fits a hand, a person fits in a chair, a chair fits in a room, a room fits in a house, a house fits into the landscape.
In the early 2000s, I wrote about American rivers and it was a logical extension, a natural progression to how human beings find a sense of fit in the environment. I become interested in citizen science, and the changing landscape of the Hudson Valley. In How to Disappear, I was considering a different way of imagining ourselves in the world, as less of a presence. It seems like different subject matter, but there’s a natural progression there.
I started working on the book because it seems to be that we are increasingly in an age of transparency, but it’s turning into an extravagance of exposure. We’re dealing with the twin circumstances of social media and the surveillance economy, where visibility is the currency of our time. I felt like this was the moment to reevaluate the condition of being unseen. I wanted to look again at what it means to be unseen, not complacent isolation or imitating real identity, but autonomy and voice. Invisibility can suggest a more positive experience than we think of it today.
Children use invisibility as a way to mature and grow — they wear hats, capes, rings and clothes that make them invisible in a really creative way. They write in invisible ink, they have imaginary friends. Why is it considered such a negative factor? I went to Iceland, they have an entire invisible population of fairies called the huldufólk, and I wondered what it’s like to exist with these unseen friends. In neuroscience there’s all kinds of occurences of brain and body detachment. When you go deep sea diving, your body becomes immersed and you lose your sense of materiality. You exist in a very different state under water. The fish are completely indifferent to you, and you have a different relationship to the natural world.
I still love to swim in rivers. I’m involved with the organization River Pool at Beacon. It’s a small, floating pool in the Hudson River for children. It’s important to get kids into the river at a young age, and show them the pleasure of open water swimming, so they’ll hopefully be river stewards when they’re older. We also sponsor a cross-river swim for everyone, from Newburgh to Beacon, every summer. This year’s event will be on July 20.
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